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Proposed property tax increase for Luzerne County

A 2023 budget proposal was presented to the county council Tuesday night in Wilkes-Barre.

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. — Luzerne County Manager Randy Robertson invited reporters to meet with county department heads in his office to defend the budget proposal he presented to county council Tuesday night that includes a 6.75 percent property tax increase in 2023.

"If I'm the messenger, go ahead and shoot. Shoot straight; I've been shot at before. So I can take that. It's just a function of what these people would put together," said Robertson.

Folks in Luzerne County are unhappy about a tax increase when the cost of everything from groceries to electricity is rising too.

"Disgusting, keeps going up," said John Payavis of Trucksville. "I'm a senior citizen on a fixed income, so I don't want to pay any more taxes."

But leaders in Luzerne County say inflation is the very reason a tax increase is necessary: they cannot retain employees at the current pay rates they are offering.

The county has 150 job vacancies and proposes eliminating 20 of those jobs, but wants to increase non-management pay by 2.5 percent to retain people.

The public defender's and district attorney's office says they're both struggling to retain attorneys.

"I think if this continues for another six to 12 months, my office is going to collapse," said chief public defender Steven Greenwald. "It's as simple as that. The lawyers there, the staff there, cannot handle the caseload. It's becoming a real problem."

District Attorney Sam Sanguedolce says his department is stretched thin, assisting short-staffed police departments dealing with an increase in thefts and drug-related crimes. He says those crimes are also due to inflation.

"An increase in the complexity of crime, so you know, the best example I can give: Cases that we used to see a simple assault on are now shootings. You know, the number of homicides hasn't really gone up. The number of people that get shot and survive has increased dramatically," Sanguedolce explained.

Every department in the county, from the correctional facility to the deeds office, tells Newswatch 16 it is short-staffed and dealing with an increase in prices.

"No one's pleased about asking people to pay more taxes," said Robertson. "I pay taxes. I pay taxes all over the United States, but you get what you pay for. So, if you're willing as a county to have some lesser services, longer times in line, no representation at court sometimes, or whatever that may look like, that's OK."

Robertson says the average increase for the taxpayer would be $55 a year.

Ultimately it will be the council's decision to approve or deny this budget and tax increase. Budget hearings will continue through the end of the year.

If you want to see a copy of this proposed budget, you can read it on the county's website by clicking here.

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